Joining the European Community
The decision by the vast majority of the Irish people to join what was then the European Economic Community(EEC) in 1973 has had an impact on our development as a nation that not even the most optimistic observer of the time could have predicted.
Back then Ireland was regarded by most of the global community as an almost insignificant island, still struggling to find its place in the world more than five decades after gaining independence from the UK.
In the years before becoming a member state, political leaders like Seán Lemassand later Jack Lynch, along with senior diplomats and economists, had argued that Ireland’s future lay within Europe.
However, Europe wasn’t so sure. Ireland’s agricultural based economy was choked by its dependence on the UK market, and the country suffered from poverty, mass unemployment and emigration.
The founding six EEC countries expressed doubts about our economic capacity and our neutrality. Ireland’s policy of protectionism, which saw restrictions imposed on imports, certainly wasn’t very appealing to a European community with free trade at its heart.
Leading economists in Ireland had been campaigning for a shift in economic policy and by the early ‘60s many senior politicians were coming around to the idea that it was the only way to tackle the high unemployment and mass emigration that blighted the country.
Ireland continued to press for EEC membership but hopes were crushed in 1963 when then French President, General Charles de Gaulle, made it clear that France didn’t want Britain to join the community.
His stand brought an abrupt end to negotiations with all applicant countries and it was to be another decade before Ireland became a member of the EEC.
A second application in 1967 had been blocked again by President de Gaulle but in 1969 his successor, George Pompidou, promised not to stand in the way of British and Irish membership.
Fresh negotiations began and in 1972 the Treaty of Accessionwas signed. A referendum held in May 1972 confirmed Ireland’s entry into the European community with 83 per cent of voters supporting membership.